MAC: Mines and Communities

Bougainville case against Rio Tinto set for US hearing

Published by MAC on 2006-08-09

Bougainville case against Rio Tinto set for US hearing

9th August 2006


BOUGAINVILLE'S multi-million kina landmark case against mining giant Rio Tinto has been re-instated and may be heard in the United States. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case accusing the London-based mining concern of genocide and environmental damage was withdrawn by Judge Margaret Morrow in California in 2003. Hagens Berman re-argued and re-submitted the case in San Francisco in June 2005 and this week Steve Berman of Hagens Berman and Sobol Shapiro lawyer representing the Bougainvilleans filed again before Circuit Judges Raymond Fisher and Jay Bybee and District Judge James Mahan.

A three-judge panel, ruling 2-1, said on Monday it was "leaving it to Congress or the Supreme Court, to take the next step, if warranted." But Mr Berman told the Post-Courier from Seattle, Washington the case will return to the district court in 30 days, which is September 16. He said in San Francisco on Monday he first filed in 2000 representing Bougainvilleans exposed to toxins resulting from the Panguna copper mine, people who lost property due to environmental contamination, and people injured or killed during the Bougainville conflict between 1989 and 1999.

The suit claims London-based Rio Tinto conspired with the Government of Papua New Guinea to quell civil resistance to an environmentally devastating copper mining operation, actions that led to the deaths of thousands. "We will return to the district court where we will begin taking evidence in 30 days time," Mr Berman told the Post-Courier. " I am deeply gratified the Court had seen fit to allow the people of Bougainville their day in court in the United States."

But Rio Tinto may try to appeal to the US Supreme Court. Rio Tinto told the Post-Courier the company was reviewing the decision and considering its options. "If the matter ever gets to trial, Rio Tinto will show that the accusations against it are untrue. Rio Tinto expects that if it ever does get to trial it will be many years before the case is finally heard," Rio Tinto said. The matter has no connection with the United States and it should be heard in Papua New Guinea.

The U.S State Department had previously taken the position that the case would risk affecting U.S foreign policy interests, but the Court of Appeals decided not to defer to that position.

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